The Conservation and Adaptation of Historic Anglican Churches in England for Secular Community Use and Continued Worship, Post‐1945

Steele, Matthew George (2021). The Conservation and Adaptation of Historic Anglican Churches in England for Secular Community Use and Continued Worship, Post‐1945. PhD thesis The Open University.



Accounts of the architectural profession’s engagement with historic Anglican churches in England in the post‐1945 period have tended, perhaps inevitably, to focus upon the seismic impact of the Second World War and the physical destruction of the buildings. Moreover, the re‐instatement of bomb‐damaged churches and how this was enacted through legislation has typically been described with reference to nineteenth‐century attitudes to historic building preservation. Although this provides useful evidence of the conservation movement’s continued growth in the twentieth century, such narrow focus on matters of preservation or restoration has meant that the profession’s other activities in relation to historic Anglican churches have been somewhat overlooked. For example, following the comprehensive redevelopment of inner city areas in the post‐1945 period, the fate of historic inner‐city churches of all denominations has been presented as one of abandonment, demolition or adaptive re‐use. Yet, as redevelopment plans faltered in the face of the Skeffington Report, published in 1969, what impact did such political and socioeconomic change have on the Church of England’s attitudes towards its historic inner‐city churches and their continued use for both worship or community purposes? Outside of any religious context, this is little understood; particularly the role of the architectural profession in facilitating and implementing changes to the buildings on behalf of the Church.

To address this lack, this thesis traces the changing relationship between the Church of England and the architectural profession from 1945 to the present day whilst highlighting the differing attitudes and approaches taken through time. The thesis covers three periods: the consolidation of the conservation movement and the reinstatement of bomb‐damaged churches (1945 to 1968); the adaptation of historic churches for religious and community benefit, whilst aided by state funding (1969 to 1989); and finally where dwindling congregation have brought about the widespread adaptation of historic churches to serve as community hubs in what today is a predominantly neoliberal environment (1990 to the present day). Each time period has presented particular challenges to the way in which the architectural profession has engaged with the Church of England and its congregations. The thesis highlights how the Church’s understanding of its role in society has been pivotal in shaping its attitude to its historic churches, its engagement with the architectural profession, and the influence of community orientated architectural practices upon its historic churches thereafter; all issues of contemporary relevance in light of present day church adaptation.

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